It's a chilly morning across much of America, and if you're one of the millions planning to hit the road, you may be tempted to zip outside, crank the engine, and let your car warm up.
That sounds totally logical, but if you live in Ogden, Utah (population: 83,793), doing so could yield a very unpleasant surprise.
According to the Washington Post, Odgen is experiencing something of a crime wave. There have been 82 car thefts in Ogden over the past three months, and nearly half of those thefts -- 36, to be exact -- involved vehicles that were left running, presumably to warm up on cold winter mornings.
That, in turn, has gotten Ogden's police department fired up -- not at the car thieves, but at the owners of the stolen vehicles.
That's because each of those 36 thefts was preventable. By leaving their cars running with the keys in the ignition, the owners made it far easier for criminals to stop by and take those vehicles.
But as the police see it, it's not just a case of comfort-minded car owners having lapses in judgment. There's also a state law in Utah that prohibits anyone from leaving a running vehicle unoccupied.
In other words, the owners whose vehicles were stolen weren't just short-sighted, they were also breaking the law. That's caused Ogden's police department to begin cracking down on car owners who leave their vehicles running to warm up. They've recently begun issuing citations to such law-breakers, which run $40 a pop.
On the one hand, we're always wary of blaming victims. Saying "You left your car running in the driveway, so what did you expect?" essentially lets the car thief off the hook: it blames the vehicle owner for tempting the weak-willed criminal rather than the car thief him/herself.
On the other hand, we understand that, in practical terms, these 36 preventable auto thefts are straining a police department that could be investing time and energy on more important things. Some residents might not have known about the no-idling law, but as anyone who's ever watched a courtroom drama knows, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
If you're really concerned about warming up your engine and your car's cabin on a winter morning, there are a range of solutions available, from the tried-and-true block heater to remote-start systems (though the latter may technically violate Utah law, even though they don't require putting a key in the vehicle's ignition).
And if you're having doubts about whether to use one of those systems, remember the sage advice of Ogden Police Deputy Director John Harvey: "A cold car is better than no car."
(c) 2014, High Gear Media.